CJ Major Pushes Forward, Advocates For Foster Peers In DC
Jan. 2, 2017
SHSU Media Contact: Dawine Bergeron
|As one of 12 national participants in the Congressional Coalition on Adoption's Foster Youth Internship Program in Washington, D.C., SHSU criminal justice major Ivy-Marie Washington (center, above) created a policy report on the prevention of runaway youth within the foster care system that was presented to Congress. —Submitted photo|
Only 50 percent of foster youth will receive a high school diploma, 50 percent will be homeless during their first two years after exiting foster care, and only 10 percent will attend college, according to Promises2kids, a nonprofit organization that caters to the needs of foster children.
Sam Houston State University senior and former foster youth Ivy-Marie Washington has proven all of those statistics wrong while serving as an advocate for her peers as one of 12 college students selected nationwide for the Foster Youth Internship Program by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute in Washington, D.C.
The CCAI is an organization that provides Congressional internship opportunities to former foster care youth from around the nation, giving them an opportunity to learn what Congress is doing and enabling them to help reshape policy agendas to reform and strengthen the foster care system through their personal experiences.
Washington found out about the FYI program through SHSU’s FORWARD Program, which helps youth, orphans and wards of the court or homeless students by providing the support system necessary to pursue higher education and transition smoothly through college.
“When I did some research, I knew it (FYI) was perfect for me,” Washington said. “They placed us in offices of members of Congress and we also worked on a policy report. We did research over a certain topic that we felt was special and needed to be changed. At the end of the summer, we presented the policy report to members of Congress, as well as the domestic council at the White House.”
Along with creating a policy report, Washington interned in the office of Texas Sen. John Cornyn, organized petitions and gave tours of the U.S. Capitol.
Washington’s topic, prevention of runaway youth, was inspired by her brother, who transitioned in and out of foster homes and juvenile detention centers and, later, experienced homelessness and drug abuse.
To prevent runaway situations, she suggested that Congress amend the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act of 2014 to tighten licensing standards of foster homes. Her work also was featured in The Chronicle of Social Change.
“Although there is a shortage of foster homes, people shouldn’t be allowed to have foster kids in their homes if they’re the reason why the kids are on drugs, homeless, abusing alcohol, and running away,” Washington said.
According to Washington, it may take years before it can be implemented.
A San Antonio native, Washington entered into the Texas foster care system at age 7 with her brother, who was 11 at the time.
|(Above) Washington was inspired by her experiences in the Texas foster care system to major major in criminal justice at SHSU. —Photo by Brian Blalock
(Below) Washington takes in the view from the Capitol Building in D.C.
Inspired by a friend who had graduated from SHSU as a biomedical major, Washington began to look into attending SHSU as a senior in high school to pursue criminal justice, a field Washington said she always knew she wanted to pursue a career in.
“Growing up in the foster care system, I saw what I was going through and thought about what other kids went through,” Washington said. “I only had one foster home; most children go through five to six in one year. As a little girl, I wanted to help them. I wanted to be able to use my voice to help the little kids that didn’t have one.
“I did some research and found that SHSU was one of the best in Texas and the criminal justice program was one of the top five in the country,” she said. “I took a tour and I just knew it was perfect for me.”
With the help of the Preparation for Adult Living Program, she enrolled into SHSU in the fall of 2013.
Upon arrival, Washington became very active on campus as an orientation leader, joining a learning community, and eventually working for the Student Success Initiatives and First-Year Experience Office.
“Something that I've gained from taking part in these activities is the networking opportunities. I have met so many people who are just as passionate, whether they're students or staff,” Washington said.
When she graduates in May, Washington plans to return to Washington, D.C., to work for her senator, the program that originally brought her to D.C.; or she may go down a different path and stay in Texas.
Wherever she goes, Washington will always keep one thing in mind.
“As a foster child, you’re labeled with the statistic that you’re not going to be anybody. Ignore it and prove them wrong,” she said.
“I was always told that you can’t move forward unless you forgive the people who hurt you. You just have to forgive them and that will give you peace of mind to move forward and push through,” Washington said. “Don’t forget what all your naysayers tell you because that will help you prove them wrong.”
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